When you look at a URL bar, what do you see? A domain name and extension? Unless you’re in the tech industry, you may not know that behind every web address is another address, the internet protocol (IP) address. If you could see it, what you’d see is a series of numbers and decimal points that probably make no sense to you. However, there’s a lot behind these numbers that could put you and your data in jeopardy.
What is an IP Address?
An IP address is a numeric representation of your domain that tells other computers where to find you; it’s your street address on the information superhighway. You see, computers aren’t able to comprehend words, but they do know numbers it’s kind of like an internet protocol address.
Whenever you type a website address into your URL bar, your server converts that to a machine-readable series of numbers from 0 – 255 that look like this: 18.104.22.168. These numbers are assigned to every device that accesses the internet. Together, these are called octets. Together, they identify the network and the node. Any node on a network has the same identifier, but the host number is unique.
All networks are assigned a permanent number within a certain range. The first two sections tell the network class, such as whether it belongs to a large network, ordinary users, or those used for special broadcasts, like government transmissions. Most everyday users are on Class C networks. The second two sections identify the host. The individual numbers that make up the octets provide a whole lot of information about the device that’s accessing the internet.
Your IP address won’t tell someone your name, physical address, or what you do online. But it could provide enough information to make you identifiable to network administrators, hackers, or law enforcement.
Through your IP address, people can learn the internet service provider (ISP) and organization, the IP hostname, the country and region or state, the city, the local area code, and any service running from that IP. They can pinpoint a location to anywhere from 80 percent to 99 percent accuracy.
You may think that’s not dangerous, but most people who use the internet use it for one of three reasons. Either to shop online, send emails, game, or chat on forums, and all of these activities are usually performed from your home or workplace. That information is enough to tell an online stalker where you’re living, identify your location to an investigator, or let law enforcement know where you are. All it takes is someone to contact your ISP or hack their database to get information on specific accounts.
There are some people who’ve been able to determine more potentially damaging information. According to one case study, users of a commercial IP lookup service were able to determine:
- Whether someone was seeking legal or medical advice
- Religious affiliations
- Online photo sharing
- Revision history of Wikipedia entries
You don’t necessarily need to know your IP address. But it’s essential that you know what it represents, and what it can tell others. You can perform an IP lookup for any IP, including your own, to see how it works. Then, make sure to protect yourself by installing a VPN on your router and all connected devices.